Ask A Nutritionist:
Nicole Barrato is a dietician, nutritionist and diabetes educator at NutriGreene in Westport. In this column, she will provide athletes with nutritional and dietary tips to help keep them performing at their best both on and off the field.
Q: What should an athlete eat if they are trying to gain weight (for example, to make the wrestling team)?
A: When trying to gain weight, it is best to eat foods that are calorie dense and nutrient rich. Try adding heart healthy fats to your meals (e.g. oil, nuts, peanut butter, and avocados). These foods add calories and nutrients, without any added volume, so you won’t feel overly full. In addition, have another snack, maybe in mid-morning or before bed. High calorie oral supplements like Boost or Ensure, or high calorie energy bars like a Cliff Bar can help you gain weight.
Q: What should an athlete eat when trying to lose weight?
A: I would caution anyone trying to lose weight during the season. If your calorie intake is too low, it can impact performance. The goal is to avoid feeling deprived and overly hungry. Strategies such as substituting whole-fat foods with lower-fat foods, portion awareness, and doing activities other than eating when not hungry can be useful. Don’t skip meals—that just leads to extreme hunger and overeating, as well as making poor food choices when you do eat.
Q: What is the best way to lose weight? Quick and fast or slow and steady?
A: Slow and steady! Most often, habits people take up in order to lose weight quickly can actually lead to gaining the weight back, and possibly even gaining more weight! This is because people will often restrict food groups (e.g. carbohydrates), or skip entire meals, and these habits are difficult to maintain in the long run. It is important to eat well-balanced meals. (A well-balanced meal contains a protein, carbohydrate, fruit or vegetable and a healthy fat).
The trick though, is to ensure those well-balanced meals are appropriately portioned. Use the plate as your guide to ensure your portions are proper. Proteins (e.g. chicken, fish), should be ¼ of the plate, carbohydrates (e.g. rice, pasta), should also be a ¼ of the plate. Vegetables should be ½ of the plate, and keep fats to around one tablespoon per meal. If you find you are still hungry, have some more vegetables!